News 29 Mar 2023

Christian leader demands to be treated justly, fairly and with equity

Bola Ahmed Tinubu comes from a region famous for interreligious harmony and is married to a practicing Christian. Christians hope he will be an improvement on President Buhari, who has been accused of being soft on radical Islam and Fulani violence.

Nigerian Catholics have hopes that the election of a moderate Muslim to the presidency will lead to an improvement in safety. 

Speaking at an online conference hosted by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna said that Christians all over Nigeria, but especially in the north, dream of better days after elections for President, Government, and state legislatures.

“We hope these new leaders will treat everybody fairly and justly so that it doesn’t matter who you are, you should be treated as any other citizen. We are not making any special demand, just to be treated justly, fairly and with equity. At the moment this is lacking. We are hoping this election will produce leaders who have the common good of everybody at heart. That is the minimum we expect”, he told the participants. 

Nigeria has been rocked by violence and crime in recent decades. Religion is often either the driving force or, at least, a significant factor in a situation marked by inter-communal and inter-ethnic tension, Islamist insurgencies, struggles for land between pastoral Muslim Fulanis and mostly Christian settled farmers, and a wave of kidnappings for ransoms. The current President Buhari is a Fulani Muslim and has been accused by Church figures of being complacent about the issue.

The first round of elections was for the presidency, and resulted in a win for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, although this is being contested in court. On 11 March Nigerians again went to the polls, this time to select federal and state legislature leaders. Although the ruling All Progressives Congress party broke with tradition in the presidential election, selecting a ticket composed of two Muslims rather than a Christian and a Muslim, the Archbishop seemed optimistic with President-elect Tinubu.

“He is from Yorubaland, which has a significant population of Muslims. But in Yorubaland it is usual to find Catholics, Protestants and Muslims in the same family, and they get on well. Tinubu’s wife is a practicing Christian, so we are hopeful.” 

“He has been declared the winner, but the results have been challenged in court. However, if at the end of the day he wins in the court and is sworn in, given the part of the country he comes from, and his background, I think he will behave differently. We hope that he will be able to bring that kind of attitude into our polity, so that we can all enjoy that”, says Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso. 

Church leaders in Nigeria are aware that for the country to achieve peace they have to build bridges with their Muslim compatriots, especially in parts of the country where the two communities live side-by-side. 

Fr Mark Nzukwein, who was recently appointed Bishop of Wukari, worked in seminaries for two decades, including most recently at St Augustine's Major Seminary, in Laranto, which is located in the middle of a large Muslim community. He explains that dialogue is key to the ministry of the seminary. 

“We encourage interreligious dialogue with our immediate Muslim community, through constant contact with religious leaders, women, and youth groups. With this sustained dialogue we have been able to achieve mutual understanding, and build trust between ourselves”, he explains.

“The sustained collaboration between communities around the seminary makes them feel like brothers and sisters”, the bishop-elect continues, adding that “we reach out especially to the Muslim community through charity, in terms of trying to show them the face of Christianity, which is the face of love and compassion, to the extent that when they come and ask for help we try to assist them, especially the ones who want to acquire skills to help themselves, and we have promoted education among them, so that they are not as susceptible to radicals. Education is the alternative to violence. Violence has never, ever helped them.”

Bishop Matthew Ndagoso agrees, and shares his own experience. “In every pastoral visit I make, especially to rural areas, I visit the Imam or other pastors. Our priests do the same. A lot is happening at grassroots level, but not much is being said about it. Ordinary Muslims and Christians go to the same market; their children attend school together; they live together, this is the dialogue of life.”

Also speaking at the conference, ACN head of projects Regina Lynch explained that the pontifical foundation is set on helping the local Church in its pastoral and emergency outreach. “There is a real danger that we become complacent about conflicts that have been going on for a long time. The Church has a strong moral voice, but it cannot carry this burden alone. ACN has many pastoral projects, such as the formation of seminarians, catechetical formation, and formation for religious sisters, but also emergency help for IDPs and better security systems in the parishes”, she explained, highlighting a recent project in the field of trauma healing which includes training for religious sisters and priests that is currently taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, and which is aimed at helping victims of terrorism and violence.

Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso did not hold back on his praise for these efforts by ACN. “ACN has been here for us. When our churches are burned, our convents destroyed, we as pastors, stand there and think about how we are going to rebuild, and help the people who are displaced. With ACN we know that we are not alone, they are praying with us and they stand with us. They are always there. To know that there are people all over the world sharing in your suffering, really gives us the strength, courage and energy to put up with our trials. We cannot thank ACN enough.”

- By Filipe d’Avillez 

Featured Image: Fr. Joseph Fidelis with a group of beneficaries at the Trauma Healing Center. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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